Tips for cycling in awful weather - Part 1

Bikewagon - BWCC

Riding a bike in the worst weather can be a huge challenge. Rain, snow, sleet, hail and wind can be significant barriers, and all but the hardiest riders will stay home. Some folks are made of tougher stuff, though, and they have figured out the tricks for riding in these harsh conditions. This will be the first article in a series of two dealing with the subject: look out for the second article soon. Now, let's jump into it and learn some of the tricks of the hardiest riders in the world.

When it snows outside

Studded winter bike tire

When the snow falls, smart cyclists stay inside. Suffice it to say, some of us aren't that smart. But in all seriousness, riding in the snow can actually be pretty safe if you do it right. First, forget about your road bike. Slick tires aren't going to cut it; you will want something pretty knobby. A few companies even make studded bike tires especially for the winter. Whatever tires you use, be extra careful of cars (they can slide too) and try to take back streets. You will be riding a lot slower than usual at any rate.

Next, let a bit of air out of your tires. Running below maximum PSI will flatten your tire a bit for more contact with the road surface and better grip. Another pro tip: lower your saddle a bit; it will make it easier to stick out a leg to regain your balance. Watch out for ice, especially black ice that is hard to spot. Like in a car, steer into slides if you start to lose your grip. Fighting gravity will only put you on the ground quicker in this case! If you do take a tumble, try to roll into the fall and use your momentum to move sideways rather than straight down onto the hard ground (your body will thank you).

One last tip: wear appropriate clothing. (Follow the recommendations from the freezing cold section in part two of this article.)

It's a scorcher

Electrolyte drink mix

On those really hot days when the mercury is soaring, cycling can be quite dangerous. It's really best to avoid riding in the heat, but if you just can't keep yourself off of the saddle, make sure to stay hydrated. Drink lots of water on these days -- dehydration can occur more quickly than you think. The sidekick of water when it comes to tackling proper hydration is electrolytes -- salts that keep your cells functioning smoothly. Make sure to use sports drinks or to eat plenty of snacks composed of varied foods with good nutrition. In all but the most extreme conditions, it's probably better to get your electrolytes and energy from food rather than energy drinks.

A few more tips for the heat: make sure to use sunglasses and sunscreen. Sunburn ain't fun, and squinting your way through the day because you forgot your shades will give you a splitting headache in no time. Another good trick that you may see on the Tour de France: if you have extra water, douse your jersey with it to quickly dissipate extra heat. The evaporation will pull heat away from your skin rapidly. If all else fails and you are overheating despite all efforts, take a break in the shade. Heat exhaustion is a serious condition and can become life threatening.

Raining cats and dogs

Whether you live in Seattle, Madison, Salt Lake or Miami, you are going to encounter some rain if you ride on a regular basis. Light rain usually isn't a big deal, but heavy downpours can put a serious damper (ahem) on your ride. However, the focused rider can pedal through all but the worst rainstorm with the right gear and the right technique.

Cycling rain jacket

First up: rain gear. It's pretty obvious, but if you want to ride in this sort of weather you will need some high-quality waterproof-breathable raingear. A $20 rain jacket from the department store isn't going to cut it, nor is a thick rubberized jacket from the Army-Navy Surplus. No, for biking in serious rain you will want to look for a high-performance jacket built for cycling or other aerobic outdoor pursuits. Look for Gore-Tex, eVent or similar fabrics, long rear-panels and arms to cover your lower back and wrists, vents to let off steam, and bright, reflective fabrics.

You will want to look for the same high-quality gear for rain pants; it won't do you much good to arrive at your destination dry on top and soaked down below. Make sure your rain pants aren't too baggy to avoid getting caught in the gears. You will also need waterproof shoes (think hiking boots) or waterproof covers, which allow the use of clipless shoes. Some riders even use gaiters to cover any gap between their shoe and pant hem. Oh, and don't forget the waterproof gloves!

With all this gear in place, now it's time to mention safety. Rainy days are dark, so you will want to be extra visible to cars. Use bright, reflective clothing and bags, and make sure to use several bright, waterproof LED lights to show your position. Now just watch your speed around corners, and you should be ready to tackle some of the nastiest rainstorms.

Part two of this article will go over a few more extreme weather conditions: freezing cold temperatures and high winds.